Page 34 of The Final Diagnosis


The man had answered courteously, “Thank you, madam,” then to O’Donnell, “Good night, sir,” and had driven off.


Of course, if he had thought about it, O’Donnell would have realized that the daughter of Eustace Swayne was obviously an heiress. Not that the realization concerned him greatly; his own income nowadays was ample for a comfortable life and more besides. Nevertheless, a really rich woman was something new in his personal experience. Again he found his mind framing the comparison between Denise and Lucy Grainger.

With a modest crescendo the orchestra ended the group of selections. O’Donnell and Denise applauded briefly, then moved from the dance floor. Taking her arm lightly, he steered her to their table. A waiter was hovering; he held out their chairs and served the drinks O’Donnell had ordered.

Sipping the fresh old-fashioned, Denise said, “We talked about me. Now tell me about you.”

He poured more soda into his scotch. He liked the liquor well diluted—a practice most waiters seemed to abhor. “It’s pretty routine stuff.”

“I’m a pretty good listener, Kent.” Denise was speaking with half her mind. The other half was thinking: This is a man—all man! Her eyes took in the big frame, broad shoulders, the strong face. She wondered if he would kiss her tonight and what it might lead to later. She decided there were interesting possibilities in Dr. Kent O’Donnell.

O’Donnell told her about Three Counties, his work there, and what he hoped to do. She asked him questions about the past, his experiences, people he had known—admiring all the while the depth of thought and feeling which came through everything he said.

They danced again; the waiter replaced their drinks; they talked; they danced; the waiter returned; the sequence was repeated. Denise told him about her marriage; it had taken place eighteen years ago, had lasted ten. Her husband was a corporation lawyer with a busy practice in New York. There were two children—twins, Alex and Philippa—who had remained in Denise’s custody; in a few weeks the children would be seventeen.

“My husband is a perfectly rational being,” she said. “It’s simply that we were quite incompatible and wasted a lot of time coming to an obvious conclusion.”

“Do you ever see him now?”

“Oh, often. At parties and around town. Occasionally we meet for lunch. In some ways Geoffrey is quite delightful. I’m sure you’d like him.”

Both of them were talking more freely now. Without waiting to be told, the waiter put fresh drinks in front of them. O’Donnell asked her about divorce; was there some barrier toil?

“Not really.” She answered frankly. “Geoffrey is quite willing to divorce me but insists that I supply the evidence. In the state of New York, you know, it has to be adultery. So far I haven’t got around to it.”

“Has your husband never wanted to remarry?”

She seemed surprised, “Geoffrey? I don’t imagine so. In any case, he’s married to the law.”

“I see.”

Denise twirled the stem of her glass. “Geoffrey always considered that bed was a good place in which to read his legal briefs.” She said it softly, almost with intimacy. O’Donnell sensed a hint of why the marriage had failed. He found the thought exciting.

The waiter was at his elbow. “Excuse me, sir, the bar is closing in a few minutes. Do you wish to order now?”

Surprised, O’Donnell glanced at his watch. It was almost one o’clock in the morning. Though it seemed much less, they had been together for three and a half hours. He glanced at Denise; she shook her head.

He told the waiter, “No, thank you,” and paid the check the man presented. They finished their drinks and prepared to go. The waiter offered a friendly “Good night”; the tip had been generous. O’Donnell had a sense of comfort and well-being.

In the foyer he waited for Denise while an attendant went to the parking lot for his car. When she came she took his arm. “It’s such a shame to go. I almost wish we’d had that last drink after all.”

He had hesitated, then said lightly, tentatively, “We could stop at my apartment if you like. I have a well-stocked bar, and it’s on the way.”

For an instant he feared he had been unwise. He thought he detected a sudden coolness, a hint of pained surprise. Then it was gone. She said simply, “Why don’t we do that?”

Outside the Buick was waiting, the doors held open, the motor running. Going across town, he drove carefully, more slowly then usual, aware he had had a good deal to drink. It was a warm night and the car windows were down. From the other side of the front seat he caught a subtle breath of perfume once again. At his apartment he parked the car on the street and they went up in the elevator.

When he had mixed drinks he took them across and gave the old-fashioned to Denise. She was standing by an open window in the living room, looking out at the lights of Burlington below. The river which ran through the city cut a deep swath of darkness between both its banks.

Standing beside her, he said quietly, “It’s been a while since I mixed an old-fashioned. I hope it isn’t too sweet.”

She sipped from the glass. Then softly, huskily, “Like so much else about you, Kent, it’s absolutely right.”

Their eyes met and he reached out for her glass. When he had put it down she came gently, effortlessly, to him. As they kissed his arms tightened around her.

Then stridently, imperiously, in the room behind them a phone bell clamored out. There was no ignoring it.

Gently Denise disengaged herself. “Darling, I think you’d better answer it.” She touched his forehead gently with her lips.

As he crossed the room he saw her gather up her purse, stole, and gloves. It was obvious the evening was over. Almost angrily he picked up the phone, answered curtly, and listened. Then the anger dissolved. It was the hospital—the night-duty intern. One of O’Donnell’s own patients had developed symptoms which appeared to be serious. He asked two swift questions, then, “Very well, I’ll come at once. Meanwhile, alert the blood bank and prepare for a transfusion.” He broke the connection, then called the night porter to get a taxi for Denise.

Fourteen

Most nights of the week Dr. Joseph Pearson made a practice of going to bed early. Necessarily, though, on the evenings he played chess with Eustace Swayne he was much later—an occurrence which left him tired and more irritable than usual next morning. This effect, from last night’s session, was with him now.

Working his way through purchase requisitions for lab supplies—a task he detested ordinarily and more than ever at this moment—he snorted and put one of the vouchers aside. He scribbled a few more signatures, then paused again and snatched a second voucher from the pile. This time there was a scowl as well as the snort. An ultimate would have known the danger signs—Dr. Pearson was ready to blow his top.

The moment came when he hesitated over a third voucher. Then, explosively, he threw his pencil down, grabbed up all the papers in an untidy heap, and made for the door. Storming into the serology lab, he looked around for Bannister. He found the senior technician in a corner preparing a stool culture.

“Drop whatever you’re doing and come over here!” Pearson dumped the pile of papers on a center table. Several fell to the floor, and John Alexander bent down to retrieve them. He felt an instinctive relief that Bannister, and not himself, was the object of Dr. Pearson’s anger.

“What’s the trouble?” Bannister strolled across. He was so used to these outbursts that sometimes they had the effect of making him calmer.

“I’ll tell you what’s the trouble—it’s all these purchase orders.” Pearson himself was more subdued now, as if his ill temper was simmering instead of being on the boil. “Sometimes you seem to think we’re running the Mayo Clinic.”

“We gotta have lab supplies, haven’t we?”

Ignoring the question, “There are times I wonder if you eat the stuff. And besides, didn’t I tell you to put a note on anything out of the ordinary, explaining what it was for?”

“I guess I forgot.” Bannister’s tone was resigned.

“All right, you can start remembering.” Pearson picked a form from the top of the pile. “What’s the calcium oxide for? We never use that here.”

Bannister’s face creased in a malicious grin. “You asked me to get that. Isn’t it for your garden?” The senior technician was referring to a fact which both of them knew but seldom spoke of. As one of the county horticultural society’s leading rose growers, Joe Pearson absorbed a goodly quantity of hospital lab supplies in improving the growing power of his soil.

He had the grace to appear embarrassed. “Oh . . . yeah . . . okay, let that one go.” He put down the voucher and picked up a second. “What about this one? Why do we want Coombs serum all of a sudden? Who ordered that?”

“It was Dr. Coleman.” Bannister answered readily; this was a subject he had hoped would come up. Alongside him John Alexander had a sense of foreboding.

“When?” Pearson’s question was sharp.

“Yesterday. Dr. Coleman signed the requisition anyway.” Bannister pointed to the voucher, then added maliciously, “In the place where you usually sign.”

Pearson glanced down at the form. Until now he had not noticed there was a signature on it. He asked Bannister, “What does he want it for? Do you know?”

The senior technician relaxed. He had set the wheels of retribution in motion and now he could enjoy this scene as a spectator. He told John Alexander, “Go ahead. Tell him.”

A shade uneasily John Alexander said, “It’s for a blood-sensitization test, Dr. Pearson. For my wife. Dr. Dornberger ordered it.”

“Why Coombs serum?”

“It’s for an indirect Coombs test, Doctor.”

“Tell me—is there something special about your wife?” Pearson’s voice had an edge of sarcasm. “What’s wrong with the saline and high-protein tests? The same as we use for everybody else?”

Alexander swallowed nervously. There was a silence. Pearson said, “I’m waiting for an answer.”

“Well, sir.” Alexander hesitated, then blurted out, “I suggested to Dr. Coleman—and he agreed—it would be more reliable if, after the other tests, we did a—”

“You suggested to Dr. Coleman, eh?” The tone of the question left no doubt of what was about to happen. Sensing it, Alexander blundered on.

“Yes, sir. We felt that since some antibodies can’t be detected in saline and high protein, running the extra test—”

“Cut it out!” The words were loud, harsh, brutal. As he said them Pearson slammed his hand hard down on the pile of forms and the table beneath. There was silence in the laboratory.

Breathing hard, the old man waited, eying Alexander. When he was ready he said grimly, “There’s one big trouble with you—you’re just a bit too free with some of that stuff you picked up in technician’s school.”

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